Yesterday I got all bent out of shape by a stupid piece about the need for government. It’s a need I rarely feel. I don’t understand people’s pining for more government. There’s no golden age of progress, where government boldly steered the country into new and brighter fields.
Government is, at best, a preventative; it’s like a course of antibiotics, or lancing a painful boil. It’s something to be endured, something necessary and unpleasant and shameful, like a bowel movement. Why do we need more? Like bowel movements, there’s a certain level of government which is healthy. Anymore than that is undesirable.
It bothers me that so many people see a ‘problem’, and instinctively leap towards the same one solution which has repeatedly proven to be inefficient, destructive, complex, ineffectual, harmful, and oppressive.
But I digress. The stupid piece I referred to yesterday was full of the fear of some big, oppressive, self-interested governments . . . er, corporations controlling meat-packing. A similar fear underlies the FCC’s interest in the recent Google-Verizon talks that Tate explained. Many serious, rational people have the same fear, and feel the same yearning for intervention. And yet, our daily experience with the new media age really exemplifies why this kind of fear is myopic, overblown, and silly.
This entire social media age is, in large part, a Hayekian “spontaneous order”; something created by man, but not designed by anyone. You could get all semantic and say it was designed ‘by the people’, or ‘by everyone’, but it means the same thing. There is no King of the Internet, and that’s for the best. There’s just a whole host of rules, customs, and unwritten expectations. Even the very privileged are subject to these rules, and respected journalists can get into trouble. Take this piece from DCist:
[Washington Post sports columnist Mike] Wise decided to run a little experiment — tweeting three pieces of fake news, in the hopes that he could prove that someone would run them without fact checking, in some kind of attempt to either prove that real reporting is dead, or that blogs aren’t worth their salt, or both. Wise never claimed any sources in the tweets, but his notes were picked up and attributed to him in stories about the people in them. Wise then outed the tweets as fake on his radio show, and bragged about the boost in followers they provided. Then everyone called Wise out, while his editors at the Post laid the interoffice smackdown. . . .
Wise’s goal of discrediting Twitter as a legitimate source for breaking news was doomed, because it already is one.
But even assuming no prior knowledge of Twitter’s ascendancy to legitimacy, Wise’s logic had a fatal disconnect: he assumed that there weren’t levels of authenticity to Twitter, which, just like any other social construct on Earth, features some people who are reputable concerning whatever and others who aren’t.
The internet isn’t a roiling mass of chaos. Well, it kind of is, but it’s also far more than that. There are a multitude of competing systems, of experimental ways of turning information into money, influence, and fame, of turning ideas into reality, even reshaping how we think “reality” is made. Isn’t the mere fact that you’re reading this proof that we don’t need some stuffed suits at the FCC to tell us the one ‘right’ way to do things? Wouldn’t that take this explosively fun, exciting, bewildering virtual world, and make it a uniform grey? As Tim Cavanaugh put it:
But I have been pretty creeped out lately to realize how hard it is to live Google-free, so I’ll bite. In cases where actual market capture occurs with no use of the state’s monopoly on violence, this libertarian’s response is: Wait a couple years. I don’t think anybody who remembers Janet Reno’s battle to free us from slavery to Microsoft can still take the pure-market monopoly argument seriously now that the Explorer browser, the Windows OS and maybe the personal computer itself are all on a one-way trip to Ye Olde Museum of Technologies Past. Sadly for political economists, babies continue to be born, and they continue to grow up and invent things that make one year’s corporate villain into next year’s market victim (who then pleads for help from the government).
Ahh Creative Destruction. That’s why the new media social age isn’t the democracy that some claim it is. It’s a meritocracy. If you’re good at whatever you put your hand too, you will find readers, and advertisers, and become a big freaking success. People, like Wise, like the FCC, like anyone who assumes that a government solution is per se good, is clinging to one way of doing things. It’s a big, creative world out there. You’re missing it.
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